Like her A Thousand Days in Venice, Marlena De Blasi's That Summer in Sicily leaves you both enthralled and cynically envious. Obviously, her professional writing skills have enabled her to settle into faraway idyllic places that most of us can only imagine. In this book, Marlena and her husband settle on the rustic island of Sicily to research a new book of regional recipes. (Imagine the daily agony of sampling superb food in the region already being touted as "the new Tuscany"!) De Blasi's accounts of her excursions to neighboring villas demonstrate that her inquisitive appetite is not reserved for food alone. A joyous beach or backyard read that could transport you to distant climes.
In her fourth Italian memoir (after The Lady in the Palazzo), American writer de Blasi utilizes her personal narrative as merely bookends for a larger story. In 1995, De Blasi and her Italian husband sought a place to stay in the Sicilian mountains and were directed to the Villa Donnafugata, a grand hunting lodge populated by widows, farmers and an imperious mistress: Tosca Brozzi. When she was nine, Tosca was traded, in exchange for a horse, to a feudal prince, who took her to live with his wife and their two daughters. On her 18th birthday, she became the puttanina(mistress) of the prince, Leo (then exactly twice her age), and they lived together in an accepted "arrangement." After WWII, Leo set about modernizing his estates, asking Tosca, a bookworm, to educate their children. The modernization brought down the wrath of the Sicilian mafia, and one day Leo simply disappeared, leaving Tosca an heiress. Eventually she modified Leo's reformist plans, developing the extraordinary community that the author and her husband stumble upon. This book reads like a suspense novel complete with a surprise ending, and though Tosca's story is compelling, it's in De Blasi's telling of it that the true magic lies. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
De Blasi (A Thousand Days in Tuscany) has written yet another engaging book about Italy. This time she retells a love story told to her by the mistress of a large villa in the Sicilian mountains. Unlike in her other books, de Blasi herself is only a minor character in this enthralling story of love between a prince and his ward, who meet just prior to World War II. De Blasi writes both of their desire for each other, and their desire to improve life for those around them. With much less focus on food than her previous works, this story focuses on the characters' lives, loves, and motivations, all with a Sicilian backdrop. This is not a traditional travel narrative, but a love story that embraces the culture and character of Sicily. Recommended for public libraries.
Sicily is of course not only a place of romance, but home to its own particular cuisine, distinct from cuisines of the Italian mainland. To help travelers navigate this culinary landscape, Peterson has added one more culture to her extremely useful "Eat Smart" series, this time coauthored with native Sicilian Croce. They provide a culinary history of the island, describing local foods, dishes, recipes, and food markets. The lengthy glossary and menu guide give readers significantly more information than does a general traveler's dictionary. Anyone who loves travel as much for food as for all its other pleasures will find this an invaluable guide to a realm where food is such an important part of the life and culture of the people. Highly recommended for public libraries.
From de Blasi (The Lady in the Palazzo, 2007, etc.), a fragrant tale of life and love in the mountains of Sicily. Shortly after the Venetian interlude she luxuriously captured in A Thousand Days in Venice (2002), the author accepted an assignment to write a magazine article on the interior regions of Sicily. Like many other journalists, she was met by silence from the wary Sicilians. She was about to retire to the mainland when she stumbled upon Villa Donnafugata, whose romantic turrets, towers, balconies and chromatically tiled roof were surrounded by gardens, fields, piazzas and hills. The black-draped, oldish women in residence tended to their various labors, chanted, laughed and prayed. The sun was hot, the smell of herbs suffused the air. Was this a fever dream? de Blasi wondered. No, but it was surely a place from another time, and how it emerged out of feudalism through an act of moral modernity was a story unfurled to the author by the villa's mistress, Tosca. The tale, which comprises most of the book, is a marvel. As a child of nine or ten, Tosca was sent by her horse-breeder father to live with a Sicilian prince, Leo, who "had a stallion that Tosca's father wanted more than his daughter." Early rebellion gave way to affection, then love. Together, in the years following World War II, the prince and his ward brought education, health care and a shared sense of purpose to the village around their manor. Rapture and grief came in measured doses, but ultimately Leo was run out of town for his affront to the "centuries'-old system of hierarchy that kept the wealthy in comfort and the poor in misery." Even in 1995, when de Blasi first visited Donnafugata, the old ways abided, likethe shawl Tosca wore at night, still permeated with the scent of her beloved. Swift, sinuous, deep and brimming with cultural artifacts. Agent: Rosalie Siegel/Rosalie Siegel, International Literary Agent